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Tucker Carlson’s downplaying of white supremacy reinvigorates year-long boycott effort

Tucker Carlson’s downplaying of white supremacy reinvigorates year-long boycott effort
[Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

Talk show hosts often say controversial stuff. But Fox News’s Tucker Carlson dropped an especially loud bomb Tuesday night by saying that white supremacy is “not a real problem in America,” among other startling assertions on the subject. It’s worth watching the entire clip to see how bizarre the reasoning gets. (Carlson issued a response on Wednesday that doubled down on his claims.)

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Carlson’s latest comments kicked off a wave of social media protest, with calls for advertisers to boycott his show. This is just the latest phase in an effort by multiple organizations over the past year–one that’s already had significant results. And it’s in the context of a bigger campaign to target advertisers and media buyers to systemically change their policies toward Fox News.

“This seems different because it’s so stark, but the advertisers on his show are pretty much all gone,” says Matt Rivitz, an advertising industry professional and cofounder of the group Sleeping Giants. Originally formed to advocate advertiser boycotts of Breitbart News, the group called for a Tucker Carlson boycott in September 2018.

Pressure is now focused on a few big names that continue as sponsors, such as Nestlé and financial services company USAA. “Many [companies] have scaled down their Fox News ad buys,” says Angelo Carusone, president of staunch Fox News critic organization Media Matters for America.

In response, Fox News provided the following statement: “Fox News reached an all-time record in advertising revenue in the latest fiscal year, which just ended June 30th. Any insinuation our business has been impacted is provably false.”

Media Matters published a timeline in October 2018 (which it continually updates) documenting what it considers racist statements going back to Carlson’s tenure at MSNBC in 2007, with more recent examples that it says cross over to white supremacy.

Tucker Carlson became a more prominent figure for the organization’s efforts last summer, says Carusone, when he says they saw more influence from far-right communities on 4Chan and 8Chan and pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald. “That became a thing that we started to weave into our materials to media buyers,” says Carusone.

Broad criticism heated up in late December following Carlson’s statement that immigration can make the United States “poorer, and dirtier, and more divided.” (Media Matters keeps a running list of companies that advertise on Tucker Carlson and those that have pulled back.)

“Tucker was actually the fixture of much of our conversations with media buyers in April and May because they started to see a lot of his programming . . . as being extraordinarily racially charged and racist,” says Carusone.

Media Matters has a long history of ad-boycott campaigns, including against current top Fox host Sean Hannity and ousted host Bill O’Reilly.

Color Of Change, which describes itself as an “online racial justice organization,” was also a major force behind the O’Reilly campaign. It has launched a similar campaign against Carlson and fellow Fox News personality Laura Ingraham, with an online petition calling for an advertiser boycott.

Matt Rivitz agrees that there are systemic issues. “It’s hard to pin it all on Carlson when the whole network seems to be okay with it and encourages it,” he says about racist sentiments.

That said, outrage moments often serve to drive activist movements. And Carlson’s stunning downplaying of white supremacy may mark a new phase in the battle.

This article has been updated with comment from Fox News.

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